Students at Kansas State University Salina believe unmanned aircraft systems are indeed the future of aviation. The program, Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, has seen enrollments increase by 200%, from 7 to 22 students. Kurt Barnhart, head of the university’s aviation department is very pleased to see this level of interest. He states the work involved in getting the program off the ground has been rewarded with the huge increase in enrollment numbers.
Students’ reasons for enrollment in the program are varied. Professional pilot majors make up the majority of enrollments while some are majoring in aviation maintenance. However, there are some who are solely focusing on UAS. There are those who want to take their remote control flying hobbies into a career. There are those who are military bound yet appreciate the opportunity to fly without the fear of getting shot down. Engineers will get the rare opportunity to build and fly the same aircraft.
K-State’s Salina campus is near Smoky Hills Weapon Range. The UAS program has been given access to the restricted air space at the weapon range. The range allows students to operate unmanned systems operating software explains Eric Shappee, associate professor of UAS. The students also get to learn mission planning first hand. Shappee is confident this exposure will give his students an edge when seeking employment.
The program’s director, Josh Brungardt, feels very fortunate that K-State Salina is one of the only universities to be able to offer such experience due to the campus’ proximity to Smoky Hills.
UAS is currently a certificate program at K-State Salina.
The UAS program office at K-State Salina also serves another function as it houses the Unmanned Aerial Systems Technology Evaluation Center. The center will evaluate UAS platforms and technology to determine how suitable they are during disaster response situations. The center will also train those who operate and maintain UAS. The UAS office also houses a full surface mount technology lab. The lab’s focus is on unmanned vehicle avionics and payload miniaturization.
K-State’s Applied Aviation Research Center operates the UAS program office. The center’s mission is to advance aerospace technology in propulsion, airframe, avionics and aviation training. The office also assists military organizations and the private sector in their focus on the nation’s airspace utilizing unmanned flights. Another function of the UAS program office is to train pilots and operators of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
As a pioneer in the unmanned aircraft systems field, K-State also instituted the criteria for UAS flight operations which includes the functions at the Smoky Hill Weapons Range. K-State will eventually also begin fight operations at the Herington UAS flight facility in Kansas. Both military and civilian organizations are able to test and fly at the facilities.